In a sign of how fragile the Iraq security situation remains despite recent gains, a key US ally – the police chief of Babil Province, south of the capital – was killed in an attack Sunday.
Brig. Gen. Qais al-Mamouri was killed and two of his companions severely wounded when five successive roadside bombs exploded, hitting his armored SUV, provided by the US military. The attack occurred at the northern entrance of the provincial capital, Hilla, says police spokesman Capt. Muthana Khalid.
"It was a very precise attack; he died on the way to the hospital, he was a hero," says Captain Khalid.
The attack occurred at about 1:45 p.m. local time, 45 minutes after Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch commander of Task Force Marne, a combined US-Iraqi force responsible for Babil and several other areas south of Baghdad, finished a press conference in Baghdad praising General Mamouri.
"I see amazing momentum on the local level. Let's focus in on General Qais [al-Mamouri] of the Babil police," General Lynch told a group of reporters gathered for a luncheon at the Green Zone. "He's Iraqi, and if you are anti-Iraqi he's anti-you."
"He's indeed truly Iraqi and he's focused on what's good for the people of Babil and that has permeated through out the Babil police, and I am very encouraged by that."
The point Lynch was making was that although Mamouri was a Shiite, he has been operating in a nonsectarian way during his tenure as police chief for more than three years in what has been traditionally one of the most volatile and dangerous parts of the country.
Lynch said that the police chief struck against both the Sunni Al-Qaeda-linked fighters and the Shiite militias that continue to plague the province despite some impressive gains that followed a series of operations in Babil this year.
Total attacks in the area of operation – including Babil, parts of southern Baghdad, Wasit, Karbala and Najaf – which is roughly the size of West Virginia, were 226 in November compared with 615 in July, Lynch said, adding that this translated into an average of six attacks a day now compared with 25 in July.
The commander cautioned though that he was unwilling to declare victory yet because the enemy, particularly Al Qaeda, was still present, citing as an example an attack Saturday on an Iraqi Army checkpoint in Arab Jubbour, south of Baghdad, that killed three soldiers and wounded 14, and damaged a US helicopter that had responded to the attack.
"You won't find me dancing in the end zones in terms of a victory celebration because the enemy is still out there," Lynch said, promising an operation later this month against a hamlet on the Euphrates in the northern section of Babil where the military believes 30 or so senior Al-Qaeda-linked operatives have sought shelter.
Babil provincial council member Hassan Watwet told the Associated Press that Al Qaeda is the primary suspect behind the attack on Mamouri but it could have also been Shiite militias.
A member of a major Shiite party told the Monitor that it may have been a result of rivalry between the governor, Saleh al-Muslimawi, a Shiite who belongs to the Islamic Supreme Council in Iraq party, and the police chief, who was more of an independent.
"The police chief had a very strong relationship with the Americans and he often clashed with the governor; they hated each other," he said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record to media. The governor was trying to squeeze out Mamouri, he added.